The Timemaker

The Timemaker

Just when they decided they loved each other and wanted to spend the rest of their lives together, he got sick. Terminal cancer, the doctors told him. He had maybe six or seven months.

He didn’t want to tell her, but he knew he had to. Already his cheeks were hollow and his eyes turned pale. He looked in the mirror and couldn’t recognize who was staring back at him. He wanted to find the right time, but how does one find the right time to tell the person you love you’re only going to be around another six or seven months? He guessed it wouldn’t get any easier for her if he waited another month or two because then he’d have to explain he only had four or five months left. The sooner the better.

But what if the doctors were wrong? What if he told her he’d only be around for another six months and he lived longer, say a year? Or longer. What then? What would she think of him? He worried about that. He didn’t want to worry her without reason. But if he died without warning, that wouldn’t be fair.

She had divorced her first husband when she found out he was having an affair. Probably more than one. In her experience, men didn’t have only one. Her second husband left her unexpectedly. She hadn’t been lucky with men. It seemed now, when she’d finally found someone with whom she could spend the rest of her life, he too would be leaving. Not his choice but leaving just the same.

Life owes us nothing, he thought. He tried to formulate the right words in his head. They were there, but they didn’t come out right when he said them. Words are tricky. They hold different meanings to different people. What would she hear when he spoke them to her? Would she hear he was leaving? Or would she hear he still had time with her and he wanted to make the most of what time they had left to them?

He stared into the mirror. He moved in closer and pulled the skin down below his bloodshot eyes. He looked sick. She had to see that. He couldn’t fool her much longer with his story he was suffering from insomnia because of stress from work. She told him to quit. Nothing was worth sacrificing one’s health for, she told him. They could make it. She still had her job, and he could begin the book he’d always wanted to write. He said he didn’t know how to begin. That was a lie. He did know how. But what was the point now? He didn’t have time to finish it. Time slipped away. No, that wasn’t it. Time stayed put, we slipped away from it.

He put his toothbrush away and dried his face. He walked into the bedroom and finished dressing. She was in bed. He bent over, brushed the hair off her face, and kissed her forehead. He wondered how any man could have ever stopped loving her. Maybe they hadn’t. Men never get too comfortable inside their own skins. Maybe he would have left her too. In time. What was he saying? He was going to leave her. He walked back to the dresser.

He didn’t feel like going into work today. Most days he didn’t, but today he needed to spend time with her, take her out for a leisurely lunch, some wine, and then home to make love in the afternoon. They hadn’t done that in a while. His job could wait. Hers too. She stirred in bed. He looked over at her. She smiled at him. “Good morning,” she said. He stepped to the side of the bed and she reached up to kiss him. “Would you like coffee?” he asked. “I’d love some,” she said. He turned back to the dresser mirror to finish tying his tie, looking at her in the mirror. She was sitting up now, pillows scrunched in behind her. He smiled at her in the mirror.

“You look tired this morning,” she said.

“I feel a little tired,” he said. “I have a meeting this morning, otherwise, I would call in sick. Maybe we can get an early dinner.”

“I’d love to, but I have to show that Parkview property at six. I’ll probably be tied up for a couple of hours.”

“Why don’t we meet at Diego’s at eight,” he said.

“It’s a date,” she said. “I might be a little late.”

“I’ll wait,” he said. He walked downstairs and poured two cups of coffee and carried them back upstairs. He set the coffee on the night table and sat on the edge of the bed. She picked up her cup and held it close to her mouth. “Aww, wonderful,” she said. He picked up his coffee. “You look scrumptious,” he said. “I wish I didn’t have that blasted meeting this morning, but it’s with a big client. Gotta be there. I guess.” She rubbed his arm. He stood up and walked to the closet and pulled a suit jacket off a hanger and slipped it on. He walked back and kissed her. “Gotta run,” he said.

“Hey, you never told me what you found out from the doctor,” she said.

“It was nothing,” he said. “Stress. I’ll tell you all about it tonight.” He picked up his cup of coffee and walked to the bedroom door. Over his shoulder, he said, “Love you. See you at eight.”

She slipped out of bed and caught up with him before he reached the top of the stairs. “Hey, how about a kiss?” They kissed and he walked downstairs. He set his coffee cup on the table in the foyer and walked out the front door. She walked into the bathroom. Before she peed she looked at herself in the mirror. Something troubled her but she couldn’t put her finger on it. Michael didn’t look good. Something was going on with him. For a moment that feeling of panic overcame her, but she quickly put it out of her head. No, he wasn’t like that, he wasn’t like the others. Get a grip on yourself, she told herself. She looked in the mirror again. She didn’t look so hot herself. He was just tired, that’s all. He wasn’t hiding anything from her.

During the meeting with the head of Diatrom Electronics, Michael couldn’t focus on anything other than Leah. He didn’t know how to tell her without breaking her heart. Her heart had already been broken too many times. His partner, Rex, was saying something about the limits of liability. Something about how Mr. Rufus could best protect his interests. “What do you think?” Rex asked Michael. Michael looked up, shaking himself into awareness. “I agree,” he said. He didn’t know what he was agreeing with, but he didn’t have anything to add. He hadn’t been listening.

Rex told Mr. Rufus they’d have a contract drawn up before the end of the day and sent over to his office. “You need to move on this right away,” Rex said. “It is vitally important that you have patent protection. We can help you with this.” Mr. Rufus agreed and shook hands with Rex and Michael. “I’ll read the contract once it’s on my desk and give you my answer by the end of the day,” he told them. “Fine,” Rex said. He accompanied Mr. Rufus through the reception area and out into the corridor and down to the elevator. “Thank you,” he said. “We look forward to working with you.” Rex looked back up the corridor toward their office, wondering what had happened to Michael. Once the elevator door shut on Mr. Rufus, he walked quickly back to the office. Michael was still perched on the edge of the conference table.

“What’s up?” Rex asked.

Michael looked up.

“Where’s your head?” Rex asked.

“My head?” Michael asked.

“Yeah, you didn’t engage in the meeting at all,” Rex said.

“I’m sorry,” Michael said. “I guess there’s something else on my mind.”

“Jesus, Michael,” Rex said. “You’ve got to understand how important getting a deal with Diatrom is for us. Don’t you?”

“I guess,” he said.

“You’ve got to snap out of it,” Rex said. “You’ve been in a daze for the past several days. I can’t do this without you.”

Michael looked at Rex. Without you, he repeated to himself. Without you. But that’s precisely the point. You’ll have to do it without me, he thought. The world is going to have to get along without me from now on. That’s not so hard to imagine. And the world doesn’t care. No one in the world cares. Except one. Except Leah. She cares, and she’s precisely who he’ll hurt the most. I don’t want to hurt her, he thought. I really don’t.

Michael told Rex he needed to leave early. Rex expressed his exasperation. At such a crucial time in their partnership, Rex felt as if Michael was abandoning him. “What’s more important than the law firm?” Rex asked. At first, Michael didn’t understand the question. “Nothing,” he said. “Wait, no, that’s not it. Everything. Everything is more important.”

“Everything?” Rex asked. “How can you stand there and throw everything down the toilet? What’s got into you?”

“Nothing,” Michael said. “I have to go.”

Rex watched in dismay as Michael left the conference room. He followed him out through the reception area and into the corridor and watched him walk to the elevator and push the down button without looking back. Rex shook his head and walked back inside the reception area. Before stepping into his office, he stopped at Rachel’s desk, telling her she needed to draw up a standard contract for Diatrom Electronics. “I need it on my desk by lunch,” he said. She looked up at him from underneath her glasses, but before she could say anything he was gone. She disliked him. But she was worried about Michael. It wasn’t like him to walk out like that. She sensed something was terribly wrong and Rex’s callousness distressed her. But that was Rex.

Michael walked out of the building, crossed the street and walked the three blocks to the park. He needed time to think. And to put the right words together. But what would the right words matter? He thought of his college analytic philosophy class and Wittgenstein’s Tractatus. How did it begin? “The world is everything that is the case…the case is the existence of the facts…the logical picture of the facts is the thought…whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” That’s it, whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent. How do you describe something of which you have no understanding? Death, for instance. How do I explain to Leah that I’m going to die,  when I can’t comprehend it myself?

He sat down on a park bench. He watched people walk by. Everyone going somewhere. But nowhere. This is what he needed to say: it didn’t matter. We are here for only a short time. A short time. And while we’re here we aren’t going anywhere. We’re just treading water. We slip underwater and come back up for air. Bobbing on the surface. One day, we slip underwater and don’t come up for air. This is death.

But he knew this explanation wouldn’t comfort Leah. Not at all. It didn’t comfort him. The water was deep and cold. What would he see there? And she was left to tread water alone. He didn’t mean to leave her, but he was tired and couldn’t hold on any longer, even though she would ask him to try.

He looked at his watch. It wasn’t even noon yet. He had eight hours before he was supposed to meet her at Diego’s. Eight hours. It seemed like an eternity. He stood and walked to the corner and crossed the street and down the street in the direction of Diego’s. It wasn’t far. He stopped in front of Diego’s, staring at his reflection in the dark window. He turned and looked into the busy street. Leah would just be leaving their apartment now. She probably had a lunch date with one of her friends from the agency. It’s funny, he thought, he didn’t know any of her friends. He’d heard her speak of them, but he’d only met a couple of them. But he hadn’t taken the time to get to know them. But then how do you really get to know anyone? He didn’t even know himself. He turned back to the large dark window of Diego’s. He walked to the entrance and opened the heavy wood door. It was cool and dark inside. A few tables were occupied, not many. It was too early for the lunch crowd. The hostess asked if he’d like a table. He’d sit at the bar he told her. She smiled at him. She had a pretty smile. I guess that’s what she’s paid for, he thought. The long bar was empty and he sat where it curved around so he wouldn’t have to stare at himself in the long mirror. The young bartender stepped over to take his order. Noon. But it was quiet here. And dark. It would give him more time to think. About what? What was there to think about?

“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said to the bartender. He picked up the list and held it at arm’s length. He took his glasses from his inside pocket and slipped them on. He examined the beer list. The bartender stood across from him, both hands on the inside rail of the bar. He took his glasses off and asked the bartender what he recommended.

“Do you like pale ales?” the bartender asked him.

“I do,” he said.

“Then I’d recommend the…,” the bartender said.

“Fine,” he said, though he hadn’t heard what the bartender had said. When the bartender set the beer on the bar in front of him he told Michael he hoped he enjoyed it.

“I’m sure I will,” Michael said. He picked up the glass, wet and cold in his hand. He looked around. The restaurant was beginning to fill up. He took a long drink and set the glass down on the coaster. He wiped his hands on his pants. He stood and walked toward the back of the restaurant to find the restroom. He went inside and turned on the water in the sink and washed his hands. He looked into the dark circles around his eyes and his hollow cheeks. He was wasting away. He splashed water on his face and took a hand towel and rubbed his face vigorously. He looked up at the mirror, his face red and splotched. He shook his head in despair. He walked to the urinal and tried to pee but couldn’t. Another symptom of his cancer. And he hadn’t begun treatment. He wasn’t sure he was going to. The doctor told him that it might give him a few more months, but it wouldn’t save him. His cancer had progressed too far. What was the point in a few more months? For Leah? It might mean something to her. But it would end the same. He would only endure a couple more months of hollowness and agony. He stepped back to the sink and washed his hands again. The door opened and an old man stepped past him to the urinal. He stood for a while in front of the urinal, obviously having trouble peeing.

“It’s the worst,” he said to Michael. “Having to pee and then not being able to.”

Michael looked at him and smiled. “I know what you mean. I’m having some issues myself.”

“Cancer?” the old gentleman asked.

“Yeah,” he said.

“Too bad,” the old man said. “It isn’t easy. But then life isn’t easy. It all begins to drag on you. Sometimes I’d just like to say fuck it all and be done with it. But I owe it to my family to stay around, I guess.”

“Do you?” Michael asked. “I mean, do you really owe your life to anyone else?”

The old man stepped away from the urinal and zipped up his pants. Michael moved over to give the old man room at the sink. He turned on the water looking over at Michael. “It’s funny you ask that. It’s the same question I’ve been asking myself lately.”

“And?” Michael asked.

“And I always come back to the same answer: yes,” the old man said. “My whole life has been owed to someone else. First, my parents. Next, my wife and children. Without them, I had no life. Not really.”

“But now, when you near the end of it, do you owe them your time?”

“My time?” The old man seemed puzzled. “Time doesn’t belong to me. No, I don’t owe anyone my time. That is out of my hands.” The old man took a hand towel from the table along the back wall and dried his hands. He looked at Michael thoughtfully. “You’re having trouble deciding where you are in all this, aren’t you?”

“Kind of,” Michael said. “I’ve been asking myself some pretty tough questions. It isn’t about me. I’m with someone. And she’s been hurt enough already in her life. I don’t want to hurt her anymore.”

The old man nodded. “It isn’t up to you, though, is it? This thing has taken you over. You didn’t bring it on yourself. It just happened. And now it is out of your hands.”

“But I could prolong my life if I chose chemo,” Michael said.

“That’s tough,” the old man said. “I think this someone you spoke of is pretty lucky. You must love her deeply.”

“I do,” Michael said.

“And there’s the rub,” the old man said. “Love mucks up everything. It’s just too damn confusing. Love plays with time. It throws it all out of rhythm. Time loses its bearings when love is around. It ceases to exist when we’re with them and when we’re not, it pours out like molasses on a cold-ass morning.”

Michael laughed at the analogy. “You’re right,” he said. “Right now, time is stuck in the bottle.”

“I have to go, but if you’d ever like to talk again, here’s my card,” the old man said, handing Michael his business card.

“Thank you,” Michael told him. He reached into the inside pocket of his jacket, but he didn’t have any business cards. He tapped the fronts of his pants pockets and shook his head. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have any cards with me. My office is right down the street on the corner of Park and 33rd in the Lowe Towers. The law offices of Mirren and Kraken.”

“Ah, yes, I know the building,” the old man said. “But you give me a call if you need anything. Or if you just want to talk.”

“I will, thank you,” Michael said. Michael held the door for the old man and followed him back through the dining room. The old man continued on to the entrance and stepped out into the street. Michael walked to the window and watched the old man walk down the street in the direction of the park. Once the old man was out of sight, he walked back to the bar and sat down. He picked up his glass and took a long drink. He looked around the restaurant, aware for the first time of the buzz from the tables. So much activity all of a sudden. He thought about the old man. He pulled his card out of his jacket pocket. He put on his glasses. Herbert Jackal, Timemaker. He took his glasses off and rubbed his brow. Timemaker? What did that mean? He signaled the bartender.

“Did you know that old man that just left?” he asked.

The bartender wiped the top of the bar. “I didn’t see him,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

“That’s all right, it isn’t important,” Michael said. “But he gave me his card.” He handed the card to the bartender. The bartender held it to the light above the bar. “Hm, never seen it before,” he said. “What’s it mean?”

“That’s just it,” Michael said, “I don’t know. I was hoping you knew him.”

“Nope, sorry,” he said, handing the card back to Michael. “Did you happen to notice there’s no phone number or address on that card?”

Michael looked at the bartender and then at the card. He tapped the bar with the palm of his right hand and said, “I’ll be right back.” He stood up, walked directly to the entrance and out into the street and turned in the direction the old man had gone moments before. He looked down sidestreets and alleys he passed, but there was no sign of the old man. He continued to the park. He had no idea where to look but walked with purpose. He spotted the old man sitting on a bench in the park. He walked up to the bench and sat down. The old man turned to him, saying nothing.

“Hello,” Michael said. “Do you remember me?”

The old man studied Michael, finally saying, “No, I’m sorry. Should I?”

“You were just in Diego’s,” Michael said.

“Diego’s?” the old man said. “Yes, I know the place. My wife and I used to go there every Friday night at eight. Diego would always greet us personally and escort us to our table. He was a kind and generous man. But he has been dead for a long, long time, and I don’t go there anymore.”

“But you were just in there, you and I spoke to each other in the restroom,” Michael said. “You gave me your card.” Michael held the card out to the old man. The old man took it from Michael’s hand and looked at it.

“Oh, yes, that’s my card,” he said. “I give it away to my friends.”

“What does it mean?” Michael asked.

“Mean?” the old man asked.

“Yeah, what is a timemaker?”

“A timemaker is just that,” the old man said. “I make time.” He handed the card back to Michael who looked at it again. The old man studied Michael and then looked straight ahead. “You see, it took a couple of seconds for you to read the card and then a few more seconds to think about it. It isn’t much, but I gave you five, maybe six seconds. Seconds add up.” The old man turned to Michael again and smiled. “I like it here. I come here every day. In the center of so much noise, it is nice to find quiet.”

Michael thought the old man was confused but didn’t press him. He knew he’d talked to the old man in the restroom of Diego’s. But it didn’t matter. He thought about what the old man had said about time. Maybe it is true that a few seconds don’t mean a lot, but then again, maybe they mean everything. He sat with the old man for a long time staring out at nothing. It was a warm day and he stretched his legs out in front of him and tipped his head back into the sunshine. He was happy. Words were eaten up by seconds, and once the seconds passed, the words passed with them. Leah knew. He knew this now. And he didn’t need to say anything. Time would take care of that.

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